The Soul’s Journey – Finding your “Go to Support Chest”

November 15, 2016

I woke up at 4:40 a.m. the day after the election full of dread. Racing around my mind were confusion from trying to hold two opposites. That consciousness was positively evolving when the Americans had just elected a bombastic, misogynist, racist, ignorant narcissist who had no concept of truth and likely the emotional and psychological maturity of a six year-old.

I knew I would not sleep again that night so I got up and followed my intuition. First I forced myself to engage in my morning meditation practice. Difficult as it was to still my mind, I prayed for equanimity. Then I put on some Gregorian Chants and began to read my Soul Book.

In times of stress, anxiety and uncertainty I try to avoid my tendency of engaging my normal anxiety management systems (distraction, diversion, and varying mild addictions like mindless TV viewing). Instead I open my “Go to Support Chest” to search out practices that feed my deeper self. Sacred music, meditation and reviewing my Soul Book are prime examples of what can sustain me during existential crises.

In the inner cover of my Soul Book are the words, “Reflections, Contemplations, Meditations, and Inspiration.” It is a miscellany of poems, quotes, and stories where I have experienced moments of awe and wonder within this mystery that we live. I write in bright, cheerful, coloured inks that register easily on the eye. In moments like this when the future seems so bleak and incomprehensible, I find things to uplift me.

On this particular day my eye caught a beautiful extract from a poem by St Francis that I encountered in “Love Poems from God” by Daniel Ladinsky. ‘For laughing and passion, beauty and joy they are our hearts truth. All else is labour and foreign to the Soul.” It seemed a perfect focus for the day. I shared the quote on Facebook and found out later that sharing poetry was one of the primary ways people were supporting each other on social networking.

Another entry reminded me of all the different ways to feed the Soul: Love, Peace, Joy, Compassion, Gratitude, Wonder. Awe, Mindfulness and Meditation, Music, Poetry, Dance, Laughter, Passion and Play.” It was time to let go of disappointment, sadness , grief and anger. Time to let go of needing to know what it all means. We live in a mystery. It was time to reflect on the wonderful words of Gautama Buddha, “Never in the world does hatred cease by hatred; hatred ceases by love.” . It worked. I felt a deep inner piece that supported me through the day.

I subscribe to a beautiful service that sends me glorious Soul Poems with beautiful pictures every day. Unfortunely the Panahala site has closed I suspect in disappointment after the election results but Joe Riley’s poem on November 8th was perfect. It was by Rumi:

This is now. Now is

All there is. Don’t wait for Then.

Strike the spark, light the fire.

Sit at the Beloved’s table

Feast with gusto, drink your fill

Then dance

The way branches

dance in a spring wind.

The green earth is your cloth:

Tailor your robe with dignity and grace.


The Soul Journey – Understanding the Stories That Run Our Lives

November 5, 2016

This was the theme I developed for my small Spiritual Guidance Group that met last Wednesday. The idea was unexpected and had indirectly arisen as a function of the dream I wrote about in a recent dream blog. (http://wp.me/p7aFpI-4z)

This dream encouraged me to explore something that was missing in my perspective as a spiritual teacher. The clue to its resolution was in the yellow T-shirt I had put on during the dream. Yellow is a colour associated with the mind and the sun.

The “ah hah” moment came when I remembered I refer to James Hollis, eminent Jungian analyst, as the teacher of my mind. The dream prompted me to return to a task I had neglected – to record notes from his lecture series from his book, “Hauntings”.

Once more his wisdom inspired me. In his second lecture he suggests that much of our lives are run though unconscious stories that we are continually in service to and asks, “what are the implicit stories that your life history seems to be manifesting or dramatizing or externalizing in your life.”

He gives a remarkable example from a friend of his who also happens to me my favourite poet – Stephen Dunn. As a child he lived together with his parents and grandparents on his mother’s side of the family.

Unbeknownst to anyone the grandfather had a mistress, who got sick. He ran out of money for her hospital bills and asked his son in law for money but made him promise not to tell his wife. A secret was born.

It was never repaid – his wife found out the money was gone and asked where. He told her he had lost it at the track. It created a permanent rift between them; he fell into alcoholism and Steven grew up in a fractured family where the coping mechanism was silence. He confided in Stephen when he was in his late teens but promised him to secrecy.

This story and secrecy was an undercurrent to his life and when asked by Hollis how it had effected him he responded, “I thought that arguments were played out in silence and silence was what I armed myself with”

I was profoundly touched by this account and began to wonder what stories had unconsciously shaped my life. I realized that as a fifteen-year old I had concluded that there was no God; life was therefore meaningless and so I had better take care of myself as best I could.

This story was the undercurrent of my life for the next thirty years. It resulted in a very self-serving, controlling and manipulative persona. Only when it was replaced by a new story that I was “a spiritual being having a human experience” could I begin the true journey of the Soul. From this perspective life had to have meaning.

I reviewed my insights with a dear long-term friend and he was intrigued. He began to share his own confusion about why his parents had moved the family from relative comfort in the UK to comparative poverty in Toronto. “I was always trying to find out”, he confided. “I even questioned my mother if she had followed a neighbor who moved here.” I asked him if he sensed there was a secret behind it. It was as though the scales fell from his eyes. “All my life I have been trying to find the answer to a secret I did not know existed.”

I asked how this may have impacted him. He was exquisitely honest, “Sometimes I wonder if there is something I am not aware of – some hidden agenda.”

It was an amazing moment. It confirmed the power inherent in Hollis’s teachings.

Later that evening I reviewed this material with my group. The impact was so much more than expected. People begin to see stories that had shaped and were shaping them:

  • A child who thought she had to always take care of people.
  • A family where silence and conflict avoidance were prevalent.
  • A child constantly in search of a father’s approval.

The final question we delved into was also from Hollis. Exploring our current unconscious stories is but part of the Soul journey. The question still to be answered is what story wants to enter the world through each one of us? Hollis suggests, “We all have these stories lying within us. We need to find the story we are meant by the Gods to live in this world and to understand what interferes with that story emerging.”

To quote teacher and mystic Atum O’Kane, “Before my life is over may I sing my song.”

 


My Path to Equanimity – Denial, Victim, Humour and Surrender

June 24, 2016

“You carry all the ingredients to turn your life into a nightmare, don’t mix them”

Hafiz interpreted by Daniel Ladinsky.

How do we avoid reacting to situations that seem designed to press every button. This is a story of what I came to describe as “the hotel room from hell” that had all the makings of a nightmare.

However it led to an insight into one of the effective coping mechanisms I have created to help me deal with life’s obstacles – I seek meaning in the experience. I am still uncertain about whether this is pure delusion on my part however perhaps that doesn’t matter as much as the fact that it helps me avoid the “nightmare” and to shift from anxiety and discomfort into some equanimity.

When I checked in to the Puerto Allegra Hotel; despite my confirmed reservation they had no rooms left and moved me to an adjacent hotel. It was a spartan but clean facility with  a cute balcony.  I enjoyed my stay and the best news was that it waste no charge.

The next day I checked back and they allocated me room 210. It was not the king room I had reserved. It had two queen beds squeezed into a tight space, it was dark with a window out onto what appeared to be a narrow chimney of light between rooms. The diagram behind the door suggested it was by far the smallest room on the floor. However it was nicely appointed and I had already enjoyed an excellent free breakfast so I went to the beach with no inkling of what the night would bring.

The chimney in fact contained all the air conditioning units. It also possessed the quality of an echo chamber so at night I was treated to a symphony of AC units, each chiming in as though they formed an unholy orchestra with a malevolent conductor arranging a score to minimize my sleep.

I began to recognize them – there were the quieter ones that I associated with the strings, the deeper more full throated ones that were the woodwind section and finally the “tuba”. This monstrous instrument was out of tune, a harsh raucous sound that insinuated itself into my nervous system. If I was asleep it would wake me. If I was awake I lay their in awful suspense of its next interruption.

The next morning I tried to get my room changed. Victor at the front desk gazed helplessly at me, scanned his computer screen more out of desperation than hope then pulled out a huge stack of booking.com forms and began to tell me how he had no rooms for any of them.

Now normally I would have gone to find an alternative but I was attending a workshop for the next four days so it was not possible. It seemed as though I would just have to suffer.

I went through four stages of adjustment. In some ways it became my own workshop of dealing with attachment. It began with denial – this can’t really be happening, surely it will diminish as the night goes on? This cannot possibly be normal.” Then I moved into victim. “Why did it have to be me. What had I done to deserve this? This is so unfair.” It was a short step to judgment. “Why do these selfish people need their AC on. How on earth can a hotel dare rent out a room where you can’t sleep?”

By now I was trying ear plugs but they could not blog out Tony the Tuba as I began to refer to him. The third stage was ironic amusement. I was in this hotel because I had decided the place I originally selected at half the price was too small and spartan so I had decided to treat myself to a little comfort. There was obviously a lesson in here for me somewhere as my original was beginning to look like nirvana.The cosmos seemed to be demonstrating its sense of humour at my expense.

Finally I moved into acceptance and surrender and somehow, after three sleepless nights,  slept seven hours without a break. This was obviously due to extreme fatigue because my final night was a repeat of the first except now I was sanguine, calm and relaxed despite being awake and perhaps the thought of my own bed helped.

Regardless I had found meaning – each stages of acceptance helped me move through the one that followed: from denial to victim, then amusement and finally surrender. I worked through each fully allowing full license for expression.

Frankly it was a lesson I would rather not have learned yet the journey into meaning made it palatable. I can see no way I could have avoided it but perhaps next time I may resist the temptation of luxury for my normal spartan accommodations.

Hafiz’s lovely poem finishes with the words, “you have all the ingredients to turn your life into joy, mix them, mix them.” Somehow mixing denial, victim, humour and surrender had just that effect.

There was one final gift. The workshop was being held a half hour walk from the hotel. On the second morning I found a route that took me along the Rio Cuale for about twenty-five minutes. The natural beauty combined with the soothing babble of the creek over rocks completely restored me. Despite sleepless nights I was raring to go.

 


Getting Beyond the Block

January 20, 2015

One of the joys of traveling is making new friends and my recent trip to Sayulita was no exception. Staying at the same hotel was a lovely British woman working on new business venture. When she heard about my background in marketing she asked me to provide some input on a project on which she was working. As she began to show me what she had done, I became incredibly impressed by the professionalism, the quality of the work and the depth of thinking. Nothing she showed me seemed in need of any input at all. In fact the opposite was true as my suggestions were clearly redundant. As the discussion continued she began to hesitate over her words then paused to say, “I’m not sure what I want your help with anyway. Basically I am stuck on finding the right images for my web site.”

I reflected back on what I had seen so far “You realize you have done all the difficult work here: the initial thinking, the concept, the positioning, the branding, the logo, the look and image. They are all finished, now you are now looking for some photos. Why do you think you are stuck on the easy bit?” She hesitated and looked a little embarrassed then went on to explain that she had been involved in a series of personal problems that had thrown her off centre. Although valid, they did not seem to explain her paralysis.

I observed that the images won’t make or break the proposition anyway because they are easily changed. I speculated that when this kind of block occurs there is normally some fear involved. Her response was instant and clear, “oh I’m scared it will be a failure and I will look bad.” Her wheel spinning has nothing to do with the issue; it was about anxiety and apprehension for the future. It reminded me of a common depth psychology truism, “it’s not about what it’s about.” Almost like a magician’s wand, her insight seemed to free her up so she could move ahead.

It seems appropriate to add a little background. This was not an inexperienced amateur, this was a consummate professional who had spent years successfully implementing far more complex projects for her clients. She knew her experience and skill set were more than up to this task yet she ground to a halt when faced by something that in her previous role she would have simply delegated.

So what happens? Notice there was no conscious knowledge of fear holding her back. Rationally she knew that she could do this and anyway she also knew that failure was part of business life. It was far better to move ahead and learn from failure than it was to quit. However this unconscious fear created inaction, paralysis and a sense of feeling stuck.

From a spiritual coaching perspective, the first thing is to ask yourself when you are blocked is a series of questions.

  • Does this behaviour represent a pattern in my life, has it shown up before and what did I do about it?
  • Are there familiar voices from the past behind the fear? Sometimes it is a parent or a teacher or other powerful other in our early life. This is what eminent Jungian analyst James Hollis refers to as a haunting in his book of the same name.
  • If yes what does this voice cause me to do or stop doing?

Our goal is to defuse and dissipate the power that old voices have over us. The first step is awareness, the second is for the adult to reassess their relationship with the old voice. At this juncture I engage in a discussion – this reaction has a reason for being, I acknowledge it then suggest it no longer serves me and it’s time has passed. It helps me if I can identify the primal anxiety that has been aroused.

It is not always an easy or comfortable exploration but it does help us understand ourselves better and to gradually bring change into the ways we reflexively respond to certain situations.

As James Hollis once said, “we all sleep in haunted houses and in history’s unmade bed.” We need to disarm the ghost and recover our personal authority.


Control and Mindlessness

January 15, 2015

I am walking to the gym feeling discombobulated. It is 12:30; I feel frustrated that it has taken me so long to get out of the house. My intention was to leave at 10:30 but somehow the last couple of hours had been wasted on mindless pursuits. Like a hamster on a wheel I have been getting nowhere. I can feel the judgments reverberating through my head. “chasing links on the web; no great interest in them; wasting half a day and on and on” I decided to do an attitude adjustment and think positive thoughts: “at least I am en route to the gym, I am healthy, I have a wonderful life, great friends, meaningful clients and no money worries.”

There is still a nagging sense of disappointment that I got side-tracked so easily. I get changed, climb on the treadmill and put on the seventh episode of Hauntings, the lecture series by Jungian Analyst James Hollis from his book of the same name. My mood hangover effects my reaction to what I am hearing, this was not going to be a lecture but a series of questions with three or four minute breaks so students could write down their reactions. BORING! Not much use when on a treadmill. Then his first question broke through my malaise, “Think for a moment where do you think fate has been unfair to you?” At first I smiled recalling the positives that I had just been reflecting on, obviously the vagaries of fate had not caused any lasting damage. Yes the early circumstances of my life seemed unfair but life for most children is unfair. We learn ways to deal with it then have the opportunity to unravel those coping mechanisms in later life.

The third question grabbed my attention, “where did fate especially gift you or bless you?”

This was an easy one. I have learned my gift from fate is that of curiosity. I love to unravel the psychology of my life and understand the complexity behind my behaviours. It has brought me tremendous satisfaction, a sense of meaning and empathy for others. Each event of my life causes me to embark on a journey of discovery.

At this point I almost lost my rhythm on the treadmill. Where was my curiosity about my mindlessness this morning? Instead of being curious I had lapsed into self criticism and judgment and then like Pollyanna had tried to mask it with good thoughts.

It was as though a light went on. My mindlessness was a typical anxiety management system. I felt like yelling: “enough already.” As anyone who has followed these reflections I suffer from the gift and the curse of having a need to be in control. It stems back to my childhood when it was a consequence of facing overwhelment and dealing with it the best I could. I learned to take control. It can be very helpful on life’s journey yet has consequences when I am unconscious of its power over me. My mindlessness is a way I deal with feeling overwhelmed. The Achilles heel is that is that my anxiety is unconscious; the mindlessness is a reflexive reaction to the situation. It is like a child who does not know what to do when things get out of control so gets preoccupied with something that takes your mind of the real issue.

So what had happened that morning? There had been a series of events none of which seem at all consequential. First I had tried to send a fax to Italy but my fax machine would not confirm it had gone through; it was frustrating and impacted my peace of mind. Then I could not proceed with my SoulClarity newsletter because I was waiting on someone to give me some feedback. Also I was stymied on sorting out the iPhone I had been given because I was waiting on a reply from someone at the phone company about unlocking it. Somehow added together they were enough to trigger the complex.

The result I came to a standstill and engaged in an activity that allowed me to escape the anxiety. A perfect anxiety management system. I realize I have a few of these: channel surfing on the TV, playing computer games and mindless internet pursuit. The gift is to see them before they engage not after.

This is my eleventh blog on how control can control me. How many more ways will I encounter to escape the “powerful other” in my life? Hopefully author and psychologist William James was right when he said, “Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives”.

Postscript: I finally bit the bullet, paid to have my cel phone unlocked then faced the frustration of instructions I could not follow. I took the phone to my closest Roger’s store. In no time the helpful Graeme had tested it, confirmed the unlock, inserted a new Sim card, transferred my phone number and for $10 I was free to go. As I walked out into the sun I could not believe the lightness of my being. In some strange way alleviating the anxiety helped me see how much it had been impacting me. 


Identifying Our Self-Care Plan

November 25, 2014

It was a chance encounter but one that began an amazing journey of meaning. I was returning from a walk when I met into my neighbor. I asked him how he was and he mentioned that it was somewhat gloomy in his household, as his son had unexpectedly suffered the death of his small, cute dog. The conversation moved on to grief, stress and its impact on different people when he unexpectedly shared a story from his own life. “I was dealing with a lot of stress helping people I work with deal with major life challenges when I found myself sitting in my office weeping uncontrollably. I decided I had to leave my job.”

In itself this was a beautiful sharing particularly between men who are not generally noted for emotional availability. What made it even more remarkable was that at the age of thirty-four, the same thing had happened to me. So I shared my experience too. I had been under intense pressure trying to save the company I was managing from going into receivership (chapter eleven).

By a bizarre stroke of fate I had become the “last man standing” in a fragile organization that I had occasionally referred to as a “ship of fools” due to some of the crazy decisions I had observed. The bank had lost confidence in the organization and the President had asked me to find a way out. I had worked for fifteen days straight starting at 6.00 am and often not finishing until long into the night. My days were filled with meetings with lawyers, accountants and the like. Finally on a Saturday morning at about 7:00 am I became convinced that I could not succeed.

Suddenly uncontrollable weeping convulsed my body and I could do nothing about it. I thought I must have been having a nervous breakdown. Fortunately my MD was also a friend so I telephoned him at home. His wife told me that he was on call at the hospital. I did not leave a message but she was sufficiently concerned to contact him. He tracked me down to the office and between sobs I shared my concerns. He was amazingly reassuring and told me that this was the best thing that could happen. The tears were the releasing of the immense amount of stress I had internalized and I would eventually feel much better.

Following this discussion with my neighbor, I was catching up with a dear female friend who told me she was under an immense amount of stress and recently broken down into floods of uncontrollable tears. While empathizing with her, it seemed natural to share my earlier conversation with my neighbor. As I concluded she exclaimed, “do you see the amazing synchronicity this is?” In the moment it had not fully sunk in but as she wanted to go and journal her thoughts and feelings, I let it go.

The next day I took a long walk by the Fraser River and the full immensity of the coincidence sank in. I found it significant that both men immediately took steps to leave the situation that had caused the stress. My friend however had no plans to exit. I wondered if this was perhaps because men are so much more uncomfortable about tears than women however, I felt convinced that regardless both of us had taken care of ourselves in a healthy way.

I knew my friend could not just walk away from her life but it encouraged me to ask her the question, “what is your self-care plan?” She clearly had given this much thought and understood “that running from one thing to the other stresses me out and overwhelms me.” She realized that finding more space in her life was essential.

This exchange led me to begin an exploration of what a Self Care plan could look like. I try to remember to ask myself a simple question, “did I live a balanced life today?” I then examine the aspects of the body, the mind, the emotions and my Spirit or Soul. I do not beat myself up if I have not but I do attempt to stay fully conscious of what is going on in my life. I graphic way to envision this kind of approach could look like this:

Slide1

For my body I like to either stretch, go to the gym and to take a walk every day. I test my mind through writing, Sudoku, and brain games. Emotionally I will try and make intimate contact with at least one friend as well as engage in something that may move me. As far as feeding the Soul, I listen to sacred music, read and learn poetry (also good for the brain), and meditate. Spirit I see as more collective than personal – my current understanding of what I call “The Mystery. ‘Play’ is a recent addition to my enquiry; I think it is important and can be overlooked. Recently a friend of mine had an amazing dream where her blonde self was prominent. Her exploration of the meaning of this symbol became clear, it was the reminder to play.

I think the most critical thing is to bring consciousness to how we are living our lives. I do not think there is any one self-care plan that can be adopted. As Carl Jung once said, “ the shoe that fits one person pinches another, there is no recipe for living that fits all cases.” However it’s always worth asking ourselves the question, “does mama need a new pair of shoes?”

Post Script: Sharing with a friend this morning she mused whether woman generally find it more difficult making major moves in their lives. She likened changing her life to shifting the course of the Titanic, a degree at a time.  She wondered of the sense of responsibility many woman feel and perhaps a tendency to enable others makes self care more challenging. One just has to hope the course correction is sufficient to avoid the oncoming iceberg.